A Brave Question: “Am I Worth Dying For?”

From Pearl Harbor looking toward the USS Arizona (Photograph: Ross Peters)

Dear Lord

Lest I continue

My complacent way

Help me to remember

Somehow out there

A man died for me today.

As long as there be war

Then I must

Ask and answer

Am I worth dying for?

–Prayer Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her wallet during WWII


My daughter dressed up as Eleanor Roosevelt at school one day this spring. She liked that they shared a first name, and when she got the assignment to research and dress up as an historical figure, her choice was easy. So I thought of both Eleanors when I walked past the plaque above during a visit to Pearl Harbor two weeks ago.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s prayer is placed along a walk that allows one views of the USS Arizona Memorial, and I almost missed it.  Coming from a family which includes two historian parents and an historian wife, I should know to stop and read everything there is to read at such places, but truth be told, some things get by me.  Fortunately, this did not. The prayer voices a uniquely brave question–“am I worth dying for?”

To place the sacrifices men and women in uniform have made in the context of a challenge for the beneficiaries of that sacrifice to be worth dying for is sobering. That is the sort of challenge that might provide a guide for our actions.  It calls us to think philanthropically, and it places our pettiness in embarrassing relief.

After visiting Pearl Harbor I have been thinking about the nature of bravery. What is it? Where does it come from? Can the qualities that produce it be taught and nurtured? I was thinking about it again yesterday when Eleanor and I went to see Brave, the new Disney film. I am not one to hyper-analyze the significance of Disney Pixar films, so I will spare you much of my keen insight about the movie. In short, we liked it though it was not our favorite. We did like seeing a girl whose success was not determined by the prince that saves her. The themes of the movie are relevant here: devotion, courage, selflessness, and sacrifice. Similar to many such movies we see a parent who is willing to sacrifice all for her child, and we see the child learn the meaning of sacrifice by having to sacrifice.

Interestingly, the mother and queen in the movie is named Elinor. A good name.

Eleanor P as Eleanor Roosevelt (Photograph: Katie Peters)
“Eleanor Roosevelt” by Eleanor Peters

6 thoughts on “A Brave Question: “Am I Worth Dying For?”

  1. Carolyn S.Lauer June 28, 2012 / 5:16 pm

    Wonderful and deep tribute to our dead, soul searching for the living-Carolyn in Missouri

  2. J Ross Peters June 28, 2012 / 6:25 pm

    Thank you for reading and for responding, Carolyn.

  3. Sherry Sheehan July 4, 2012 / 12:34 am

    This is really interesting. I was just in Pearl Harbor last week and saw the inscription and hunted it and found this blog. I like it.

  4. J Ross Peters November 11, 2016 / 2:33 pm

    Reblogged this on Ross All Over the Map and commented:

    In recognition of Veterans Day, I am reposting something from the archives. Eleanor Roosevelt’s prayer still feels particularly relevant.

  5. srapson November 11, 2016 / 6:18 pm

    I remember Eleanor P. as Eleanor R. like it was yesterday! Thanks for the timely re-post, and hope all is well for you and yours!
    Stacie Rapson

    • J Ross Peters November 11, 2016 / 8:26 pm

      Thanks, Stacie! Great to hear from you. I hope all is well there.

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